The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) will receive $1.5 million in funding for the Juvenile Salmonid Collection System Pilot Project in the McCloud Arm of Shasta reservoir. This project is the first test of a collection system that would be an integral part of reintroducing endangered winter-run Chinook salmon and other runs of salmon to their historical habitat.
“The time for action is now; winter-run Chinook salmon need access to their historical spawning habitat,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “Recent droughts have decimated winter-run Chinook salmon populations in the Sacramento River below Shasta Dam. Climate change is expected to repeat this situation with increasing regularity. With our state, federal and tribal partners, we can help this iconic run of Chinook salmon and increase the flexibility of California’s limited water supplies. We acknowledge and thank DWR for their initiative on this project. It would not have been possible without DWR’s leadership.”
The pilot project is designed to solve what may be the biggest challenge in reintroducing winter-run Chinook salmon to the cold McCloud River. Biologists and engineers need to collect juvenile salmon once they hatch in the river but before they swim into Shasta reservoir, where they are at risk of predators and other threats. The collection system just downstream from where the river enters the reservoir would funnel colder water – and the young fish — to a collection point. The fish would then be transported around Shasta Dam and released into the Sacramento River to continue their migration to the ocean.
CDFW is leveraging funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board to reduce the impacts of drought on fish and wildlife. The grant awarded to DWR totals $1.5 million for this first year of testing the collection system.
“DWR is thankful for this funding and the ongoing coordination with our partners that will allow this important work to continue,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Drought and climate change have exacerbated the challenges posed to Californians, as well as our ecosystems and native species. This pilot project is just one of many efforts being implemented to address these challenges head on as we navigate unprecedented dry conditions.”
The collection system consists of a debris boom, guidance net, fish trap and temperature curtain, which will be tested in the McCloud Arm of Shasta reservoir from mid-September to mid-November, after recreational activities wind down for the season. Biologists and engineers from DWR, CDFW and NOAA Fisheries will test the collection system but will not yet release winter-run Chinook salmon into Shasta reservoir yet — this will occur once the collector is fully tested and its operation is successful.
“We have a window of time to recover California’s most endangered salmon, but that time is running out,” said Barry Thom, Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “Saving these native fish will take science, ingenuity and lots of collaboration by all of us who want to see winter-run Chinook swim in their original habitat once again.”
In the 1940s, construction of Shasta and Keswick dams blocked winter-run Chinook salmon from reaching their original spawning grounds in the McCloud River. They began spawning instead in the Sacramento River below the dams, where they are exposed to the summer heat. Water managers release water from Shasta reservoir to lower river temperatures to improve survival of the eggs of this single remaining population. Drought and climate change will make that increasingly difficult and ultimately impossible.
This project will further state and federal fisheries recovery plans by laying the foundation for reintroduction of salmon into the McCloud River and advancing a more resilient and sustainably managed water resources system that can better withstand drought conditions. This project furthers the goals of California’s Water Resilience Portfolio and CDFW’s State Wildlife Action Plan, as well as addressing limiting factors specified in state and federal recovery plans.